Hello and welcome back to our project management series. Hope you had a great time going through our previous posts. In this post we will be exploring the professional practices and ethics of a project manager.

Have you ever been confused about what is ethical when managing a project? Have you ever found it difficult differentiating between bribe and gifts? Have you ever presented projects with an unrealistic budget and schedule to your sponsor? Have you ever managed a project where you do not have the required qualification or training? These and many more are challenges we face daily when discharging our responsibilities as project managers.

There is a thin line between what is ethically right and wrong and it is important for us as project managers not to cross that line. Going against our professional ethics and practices would definitely get us in trouble, which might include suspension, revocation of license by the project management institute (PMI) or even land us in jail.

We will explore the professional responsibility and ethics from four perspective as broken down in the code of ethics and professional conducts:

  1. Respect
  2. Responsibility
  3. Fairness
  4. Honesty

Before we proceed, we should realize that these professional codes of conduct (ethics and practice) are not negotiable but must always be followed at all times.

RESPECT:

This deals with the way we treat both people and resources. It is a common practice for us as project managers to have a big problem with respect without knowing it. For ease of understanding, we will look at respect from the following perspective:

  1. Respect for other professionals (mutual respect)
  2. Respect for team members
  3. Respect for culture
  4. Respect for contractors

Respect for other professionals (mutual respect): We as project managers often have arguments with the resource managers or functional managers especially in a functional or mixed project environment. This is not unusual as oftentimes the functional or resource managers never seem to have the resources available on schedule. As project managers, we often ask that the resource or functional manager is assigned to our project alone and must provide resources whenever it is requested. It is our responsibility as project managers to understand the function of the resource manager and respect them by providing them with a realistic schedule that would help them in proper planning and distribution of resources during the project. This does not only show a sign of respect, but also a fulfillment of our professional obligation to our professional colleagues.

Respect for team members: As project managers, one of our primary duties is to coordinate team members and ensure they are both efficient and effective in order to achieve the project goals. We should realize that team members are also major stakeholders and the success of the project can transfer to the success of their career. As project managers, we should respect our team members by providing them with realistic schedules that allow them to perform project work in the most optimum time. It is also our professional responsibility as project managers to provide team members with adequate training required to carry out the work.

As a project manager, we should always remember that we are coordinators of resources and not a general in the army. We should always seek the opinion of team members in developing the project management plan. This shows a sign of respect and gives them intrinsic satisfaction. As we all know, workers are more committed to projects they are a part of planning.

Respect for culture: Oftentimes we have to deal with managing people from different countries and different cultural backgrounds even within the same country and are faced with cultural differences. Cultural differences are differences in language, values, beliefs and culture. The inability of a project manager to manage these differences can easily affect the success of the project. Ethnocentrism is a popular cause of cultural differences. This is when one thinks his or her culture is the best and begins to analyze other cultures using their own as a benchmark. Embracing diversity, preventing culture shock, expecting cultural differences, using a clear communication pattern, discussing cultural differences at meetings, abiding by the regulations of the country where the project is being carried out and identifying cultural differences of team members are some of the ways to diminish the negative effect of cultural differences on a project.

Respect for contracts: A project often consists of a number of contracts and it is our responsibility to engage in good faith negotiations. This goes beyond how we talk to our suppliers and deal with them. We often engage in contract negotiations where we have no intention of honoring the contracts. We sometimes present vague information as fact when we have not carried out enough research to get a favorable contract. This depicts lack of respect for the other party involved in the contract and is against the professional ethics of a project manager.

At all times, we should always respect the opinions of all stakeholders involved on a project. We should never use our influence as the project manager to influence others to our own benefit, but rather the benefit of the project and organizational goal.

RESPONSIBILITY.

Having required skills: This means ownership for every decision and action. It is our responsibility to take up jobs we can deliver. Sometimes it is easier said than done. For example, has your boss ever assigned a task to you that requires cost accounting or some other technical skills and you know you do not have these skills? What did you do? Did you tell your boss you would require some training before you can take the project or he should assign another project manager with more experience to the job? Did you pick up the project and hope to learn on the job or did you take the project so you don’t get fired or so as to save face with your boss? It is our responsibility to understand our limitations and professionally maintain our stand by not taking on job roles that we cannot guarantee the delivery.

Problem resolution: When handling conflicts or project challenges that arise during the cause of a project, it is our duty to analyze the root cause of the issue and resolve it to favor the project goal. For example, if the cause of a problem in a project you are handling is lack of skilled personnel, reporting this to the management would probably not be to your own favor as it is our duty as project managers to determine the level of skill a personnel requires to carry out a project. You should not blame the current resource working on the project, but report the challenge to management with a recommendation on the level of skill required to undertake the project. Only when you have done this would you have performed your professional responsibility by solving the root cause of the problem.

Report unethical behavior: One of our other numerous responsibilities as project managers is to report unethical behavior in the organization or during project work. For example, if the project accountant confides in you that during his time of needs, he took some money from the project account, but has since returned it back and shows you the record as proof, what do you do? Do you report him to the management? If you just said you would let it slide since he has returned the money, then your professional ethics is questionable. Stealing, lying, cheating, etc., are unethical and must be reported to the appropriate authority irrespective of whatever circumstance that might have led to it. Once this has been reported, it is left for the management to handle the situation in whichever way they consider appropriate.

Propriety information: One tricky part of our responsibility is protecting propriety information. Have you ever copied software from a friend without buying it? Or ripped off songs from musical disks borrowed from friends? Or made a copy of an article and distributed to friends who need it or even been offered a copy of a ripped-off software which might help in boosting your project work? You begin to wonder if these actions are illegal? The simple answer is YES. The international copyright law permits only the owner of a work to make copies of the work. As project managers, it is important to understand the copyright law of any material you are working with. Also, when signing a contract, it is important to specify if it is the buyer or seller that owns the right to the material. This would help in preventing future conflicts that might arise from copyright laws.

Conclusion

As earlier mentioned, the professional ethics and practice of a project manager can sometimes be confusing and it’s difficult to draw a line between what is ethical and what is not. We were able to successfully divide professional practice and ethics into four broad sections: respect, responsibility, fairness and honesty, and we have discussed two of them above. In our next post we will be looking at fairness and honesty and how to relate to professional practice and ethics.

That’s all we have for today. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to drop your thoughts and questions in the comments section. In our next article in this series, we will explore the flexibility of project life cycle in various organizational settings. See you soon!

References and further reading

  1. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK Guide. Project Management Institute.
  2. PMP Exam Prep, Seventh Edition: Rita’s Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam